Moment of clarity

I’m having a tough time accepting a lot about my life—that the novel is still not published, that my PhD is still a distant dream, that two totally awesome and timely journal articles are languishing at 95% complete and not yet submitted, that Spouse and I are destined to be poor…

And that my eldest is testing out being the school’s resident a–hole.

This troubled me for several weeks, hearing about the times he had to be separated from his partner in crime, stifling my horror as he tells me of his antics, wondering if I wasted my time being so carefully respectful and gentle and loving and patient. If he’s going to throw sand in the face of the sweet and shy one at school, why did I try so hard to do everything thoughtfully, mindfully, and (what I now consider) self-effacingly? Why not actually lock the door when I pee, or shower regularly, or say no to playing with him, or negotiate a little less if he’s going to be antisocial and embarrassing?

And I asked another parent at school, tearfully, “is my kid an a–hole?”

He said something I really appreciated: “No, he’s usually sweet and he’s doing some awful stuff. But that’s his job. Now, my kid’s an a–hole.”

Not true. But I realized we all see things in our children we don’t like, that the socialized side of us wants to just beat right out of them, and the kid side of us wants to run from. The preschool dad who talked to me has a child with some unsavory characteristics sometimes, who is not an a–hole. My kid is trying out some awful behaviors to get attention and see the responses, but he’s not an a–hole. What he is, is different than me and separate from me. We’re now walking that thin line where it’s my job to teach him what’s okay, and it’s his job to choose the okay over the not-okay.

I thought about it, and Super Cool, Sweet, Awesome Lady X at school has a child who is genuinely an a–hole. Sometimes. And another child who is delightful. Mostly. And neither is her fault. And the total a–hole parent at school has a kid who is generally okay. And that’s clearly not due to parenting.

You do what you can and try your best, but some of your child’s behavior has nothing to do with you. (Yes I knew that, but now I have to repeat it more often than “please don’t pick up trash from the street.”) As I try to let Peanut separate and become his own person, I need to stop being embarrassed and realize that he is, in fact, his own person. And he’s four. And if he’s hated that’s his problem and if he’s loved it’s his problem. And all I can do is give him what I can to help get him through. He has to do the rest.

And damned if that isn’t the hardest part so far. Because from this side of the preschool fence, that adorable and feisty and opinionated and persistent and intense child is sometimes miraculously delicious, and sometimes a giant a–hole.

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9 thoughts on “Moment of clarity

  1. I have my own issues about a-hole kids. I was the butt of all jokes for years in elementary school, being the only fat kid in class. (And compared to today’s brand of fat kids, I was merely big boned. But that was then; this is now.) So I am SUPER sensitive about mean kid behavior.

    At the Halloween party at eldest’s preschool, one of the older kids made fun of eldest because of his speech delay. My hubby was right there and overheard. He told the kid that wasn’t nice and then he found me to tell me about it. The kid was a son of a friend of mine. We’d had playdates before, so I knew the kid. (He was usually not too bad, but a-hole behavior had been surfacing more and more.) I went to the kid and said, “How would you like it if people said mean things about you, kid?” He was unresponsive. I then went to his mom — now in tears, myself — and told her what happened. It turned into this huge ordeal. (Keep in mind, I was 8 months pregnant and my dad had died six weeks before.) I’m not friends with the family any more, and I hate the kid for making us all feel bad. But it probably didn’t have to go that way. I probably overreacted, but then again, I’m so defensive of eldest’s issues, and protective to boot, AND I have my own issues… so … yeah. I am going to have a hard road ahead with kids being a-holes, and with my own kid being an a-hole.

    Today at the park, he stepped on a kid’s toy, and I was apologizing to the dad profusely as eldest ran off without a second glance. I gave him a little talk about it, but I don’t know how much it sunk in. Sigh. It’s hard to know how to balance all this out.

  2. You brought up a good point, and that was ownership of ourselves. My mom did a stellar job of raising us. I had a bad streak. (my issue, not hers) That streak is long gone, and I am now a stellar human being. :)

    I think you write off the fear in all parents. We can all only hope that we are parenting with love, patience, humanity and respect towards others, and that all of our kidlets will grow into outstanding humans.

  3. You are right, we do what we can and hope some of what we try to do sinks into those sponge-like brains. And when it doesn’t, we need to be gentle with ourselves. We ARE separate people, but I think we like to take pride in what we created, no? Kind of hard to be proud when they don’t cooperate, isn’t it?

    But I will tell you this. I would much rather that my three boys are a_hole children rather than a_hole adults. Because if they store it all up and don’t get it out of their system now, that is what is bound to happen.

    And we very well can’t ground a 35 year old, can we?

    I think that this is the hardest part for me about parenting: trying to do the best I can and then seeing less than stellar results. Who can you blame? No one. They are children. This is the time to try out unacceptable behavior and have it corrected. It will get better…

  4. I just love that you asked another parent if your kid was an asshole.

    I can definitely relate because I am NOT enjoying age 4 with Miss M. She’s doing some really a-hole things, like throwing sippy cups at mommy’s head and biting her sister and kicking the furniture. Please, please, let this pass soon.

  5. Fie, thankfully, Peanut is only (ha, only) shoveling his way to a–hole. He throws sand with shovels, chases kids with shovels, and points at people with shovels. He’s too young socially to know about mocking or teasing and definitely responds to “how would you feel” queries. He’s just an occasional physical tormenter lately. And not of smaller or weaker kids. Just of anyone in his path, including me.
    Jen and Maria, I hope that he’s a marvelous adult because he’s full of glimmers of wonderfulness and rare sparkles of devious. But the asinine behavior is growing at school, where he’s getting crappy ideas from others. Still his fault, but clearly school has opened up a whole new world of behaviors he had never thought of.
    Kitchy, I hear you. Was Miss D an act-out-y 4yo?

  6. I remember my son, who has always been really sweet, went through a kicking phase right around age 3. I was HORRIFIED. I was on top of it with Time Outs, etc….but still embarassed. Then my friend, SuperMom, had her eldest go through a rock-throwing-at-friends’-heads phase. And I realized these are phases, they are testing the waters. They become Temporary A-Holes, all kids, to test boundaries, theories, experiment. We respond accordingly, and they figure it out in the end.
    Hang in there. Shovel-hitting isn’t the best practice, but its likely a short-lived test you’re both passing.

    My kids are so, so different. I treat them the same, but they are who they are. I just hope that by sticking to my beliefs (absolutely no violence/hitting, be kind with your words, etc) and following through with my threats when they cross the line into A-Holeness, we’ll all come through the other side a little better.

  7. Thank you for this post. I’ve had moments like that. In fact, sometimes all Husband and I can do is stare at each other after the occasional aholish event, silently telegraphing worry about ourselves as parents not having done enough to prevent such behavior. Because it always feels like somehow WE messed up. Even though we know that some of it is phases and some of it is absorbed at daycare and some of it is sheer groping along boundaries for testing…

  8. I definitely find it difficult to not stress about my Monster’s personality and to not to be embarrassed or angry or apologetic. It’s definitely reassuring to know that the kids of people I like can be a-holes too, and weirdos (as in the case of my 4-year-old).

    I needed this reminder, too: “And if he’s hated that’s his problem and if he’s loved it’s his problem.”

  9. I was just thinking a few days ago how violent my kids are and how they’ve never seen violent tv. I might as well let them watch WWF or power rangers.

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